You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘mini-thought’ category.

Schilderen, roken, eten

Best wishes to all for the new year. Among my resolutions: more postings.

Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973; via the Guardian). I like the heap of his signature hobnailed boots behind him — I think they stand for the compulsive quality of his work. May we all contrive both to harness and indulge our compulsions, in due proportion!


It would be really nice if this topic were discussed by someone who had paid for her degree. Sorry, this talk of cutting funding for BAs because some people wind up with lots of loans burns me up.  They ain’t in better shape with *more* loans, pretend economist, and whatever merits the critique of mindless credentialism has it doesn’t go away by paying only for engineers.  (And to think that engineers don’t benefit from social signaling of degree-granting institutions is unbelievably  naive. )

I was reflecting this morning on the character of some of the responses to 9/11 back in 2001 and early 2002, specifically those that responded with defiance and naughty words to the idea that the attack could cow Americans.  Things like comedians joking that instead of the Twin Towers, we’ll put up three, with “Go. Fuck. Yourself.” emblazoned on the sides, or that instead of the Twin Towers, we’ll put up five, two short ones on the ends, two slightly taller ones in from that, and one big one in the middle, to give terrorists the finger.   I seem to recall a comic book with panels depicting a memorial that made no mention of the ideology of the attackers, because, it was clear, those ignorant assholes would not be worth the time of future Americans in their futuristic memorial.   The message was clear:  these clowns can knock down a building but they can’t knock down us.

We all know that even Bush figured out that it was correct to portray the attackers as nothing more than representatives of a perverted version of Islam, that it was important not just politically but morally to distinguish between the tiny minority of Muslims who like to blow things up and the vast majority who think that those people are jerks.

But I have to figure that there was someone who combined the two, someone who thought that the best defiant response possible would be one that told the terrorists to bunny up a stump by building a mosque or Learn About Islam (Which Does Not Include Ignorant Jerkface Terrorists Neener Neener bin Laden) center right in Lower Manhattan.   There has to be someone.  Preferably on the right.   But I have entirely too much stuff to do to bother with looking this up.

Anyone up for Googling?

I’ve been enjoying the NYT series The Stone, but not primarily for the quality of its articles, which both have been good introductory nibbles  and have in general satisfied my selfish requirement: if my mother reads this, will she be assured that it is still unlikely that my discipline requires hallucinogenic drugs?

Rather, I have enjoyed the comments to the articles, for amidst the gloaming where philosophy and philosophers are condemned as of little interest, reasons glimmer like fireflies.  But the writer didn’t think of… What about this?… You’ve overlooked…. Maybe this shows that instead we should…

It makes me smile.  Thou art the man, thou art the man.

I had the same reaction that many did to the report of the Israeli rape-by-deception case, which is that even if the guy lied, he’s not guilty of rape.  Over at feministphilosophers, there has been some pushback on that, and I’ll formulate the pushback argument like this.  As enlightened folk, we believe that lack of consent characterizes rape.   Consent is a notorious pain in the patootie (forgive the technical term), because someone can fail to consent even when appearances suggest that they didn’t object.   A 12-year-old is too young to consent; someone who fails to resist out of fear of physical harm hasn’t consented; someone who is incapacitated by a date-rape drug hasn’t consented.

Another way that apparent consent can be invalid is if the person has been deceived.  If a prankster serves you a delicious brownie telling you that it’s made of chocolate, and neglects to tell you about the secret ingredient, it’s fair to say that you didn’t consent to getting high.

In this case, the woman argues that she was deceived, and if she was, her consent would be meaningless.  Lack of consent means rape.

So, I’m still not convinced.  I think that the difference lies in whether we read the deception as warranting the assertion, “Yes, I consented, but I wouldn’t have if I’d known the truth” or “No, I really didn’t consent, because I was deceived in such a way that I couldn’t consent.”   I think that there are two categories, and that this case falls in the former category, and that to hold that this is an instance of rape, it has to be in the latter category.

My resistance is largely because describing her as giving consent only because she was deceived about his personal qualities pre-supposes that sex as fundamentally transactional.  The woman exchanges sex as payment for the man’s good qualities, and if he’s lying about his good qualities, then he’s, um, overcharging and she, er, deserves a refund.  (This is going nowhere good.)

The consent there is the consent typical of something like a contract.  That is not an unprecedented way of understanding sex, even in this day and age (save it for marriage! no one wants a cookie with a bite taken out!), but it strikes me that to endorse this idea of rape-by-deception one also has to endorse the concept of sex as a transaction, rather than something that two people might choose to do for fun.

Otherwise, she’s just freely consented to have sex with someone she met at a club who (may have) turned out to be a liar.    This wouldn’t preclude being attracted to someone for having certain qualities, or being rightfully angry if it turned out they misrepresented themselves, but I don’t think you can get to retroactively invalidating consent without building in more assumptions about sex.

That’s a first pass, at least.

Mil-Dot Rangefinder (Warning: iTunes link!):

Mil-Dot Rangefinder for the iPhone takes the math out of ranging targets using a mil-dot scope. Real-time calculations provide instant range measurements in both yards and meters. The simple interface allows for one handed operation and eliminates any need to manually type any measurements to range a target.

Welcome to War 2.0.

Courtesy Kit-Up!

In comments andrew patiently reminds us he has previously pointed to Andrew Cayton’s lament that historians “leave the world of emotion to novelists, poets, and filmmakers.”1 While this is perhaps true, it is not only historians who have made this shift to bloodlessness. This discussion began with an example from the 1960s. Here are a few more, which I use in lectures.
Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday I gave my Richard Nixon lecture, which I begin by talking about the tales of two other Richards, quoting this passage from Richard II:
Read the rest of this entry »

As a followup to this post, I randomly encountered a Google Ad from the Appomattox Court House tourist board:


Too perfect.

John McCain, throwing caution to the wind with a gambler’s recklessness, made Sarah Palin a national name by choosing her as his Vice-Presidential candidate. Now, she’s making him:

Senator John McCain and Sarah Palin embraced on stage here on Friday as they made their first joint campaign appearance since their presidential race, with Ms. Palin assuring Republicans in Arizona that Mr. McCain should not be dispatched from office by a conservative challenger.

Their rally drew “one of the largest crowds” McCain has had since the 2008 presidential run; a crowd McCain is apparently unable to draw by himself.

Interesting. According to my local liquor store owner, his business is up 28% over this time last year.

(Image by Flickr user northcascadesnationalpark, used under Creative Commons license.)

Gary Snyder has written a lot of rewarding poetry over the years. But for me no single poem has been as coherent and satisfying as the first piece in his first collection:

Read the rest of this entry »

The cry for security theatre, once more, with feeling continues.  From the Atlantic piece:

The minute Abdulmutallab’s father walked into a U.S. Embassy with news that his son was a potential terrorist, the official in charge was duty-bound to see this through. Every scrap of paper and every byte of data on the suspect should have been called up and frozen. That’s why we have embassies. When the information was passed to the first special agent at the CIA, he or she was duty bound to see it through. When the information was passed to the first administrator at the National Counterterrorism Center, he or she, too, was duty bound to see it to the end.

Everyone who read the name “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab” prior to December 25, 2009 should be reprimanded and fired.

Much has been made of the fact that Abdulmutallab’s father, in a modern Euthyphro dilemma, informed on his own son.  What has been made has generally taken one of two forms:  jokes about how hard it must be for a Nigerian banker to get his proposals taken seriously FOR OUR MUTUAL BENEFIT, and incredulity that when the man was turning in his son we didn’t immediately arrest the young man or at least put him on the no-fly list or revoke his visa.

The second form is an understandable reaction (his son!), but a moment’s reflection on our recent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq should show the intelligent observer the perils of concluding that someone is a terrorist based on the say-so of a relative, colleague, or acquaintance.   If I recall, this is now one of the many lingering problems because it turns out that when you detain and torture someone based on the say-so of an informant, chances are that person is innocent, and your best case scenario is now hoping you didn’t radicalize a formerly innocent person who now has plenty of reason to hate you.

Now, obviously, no one’s suggested that Abdulmutallab should have been hauled off and tortured, but the point really needs to be made that just because someone says another person is a terrorist doesn’t necessarily mean that they are, and it’s a good thing if the United States doesn’t act like that.   That it was his father who informed on him is fascinating, but not proof of anything particularly.*

All that aside, there’s an interesting puzzle here that’s being overlooked.

Let’s treat the proposition someone is a terrorist as a proposition for which we can gather evidence that warrants belief that the proposition is true.   Let’s treat all the evidence that we can gather — parental informants, ties to radical imams, patterns of study, religion, country of origin, one way ticket, lack of checked luggage** — like a test, and let’s stipulate further that we have a very reliable terrorist test.  If we present the test with the profiles of 100 terrorists, it will correctly identify 99 of them as terrorists.   1% slip through. For simplicity’s sake, it also misidentifies, 1% of the time, an innocent person as a terrorist.

Now suppose a person about whom nothing is known comes to the attention of the powers that be, and they administer the test, and it’s positive for terrorism.

What is the chance that the person really is a terrorist?  Formulate your answer and then follow the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

When I am king the word “listicle” will be first against the wall.

So, about half a month ago, when I started writing this post, Yglesias argued that the way celebrity chefs should be helping people eat healthier food is by aiding the production of pre-packaged meals that are better for you.   Why?

If over time people were getting poorer, but the number of hours in the day was getting longer, and gender norms were shifting toward the idea that women should get married young and drop out of the workforce in order to do unpaid domestic work, then obviously people would start cooking more. But that’s not what’s happening. Compared to people in 1959, people in 2009 have more money, less time, and less ability to call on socially sanctioned unpaid domestic labor. So obviously they’re going to cook less. Or to look at it another way, there are lots of things you can do in 2009 that you couldn’t do in 1959—read a blog, download an MP3, get a movie from Netflix on Demand. There are also a lot of things you can do in 2009 that were prohibitively expensively in 1959—fly cross-country, make a long-distance phone call to your sister. But there’s no more time in the day. Which implies that people need to spend less time doing the things that you could do in 1959. Sometimes we can get out of this box by finding technological innovations that let us do things more quickly, but you can’t really speed up cooking from scratch.

The good news is that there’s no real reason to think that food you prepare yourself is for some reason intrinsically healthier than food someone else prepares for you.

Eh.  I’m not convinced.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good story about what he learned when he first baked blueberry muffins.  Baking treats yourself ensures you know what goes into them.

To that I’d add a couple of points.  Portion size is much easier to control when you cook your own food, as is the addition of salt, spices, and fats.  It also strikes me as unlikely that the best organic hippie-dippie free-range pre-packaged food imaginable will be free of stabilizers and preservatives.  While I don’t want to return to 1959 (though I think the argument that we have less time is somewhat undercut by the idea that blogging and Netflix are these new things we do), I think there’s no way around the idea that home cooking is better for you, especially if you’re in an area where your take-out options are limited to unhealthy fast food.

It’s not a metaphysical certainty, but I know which way I’d bet, and it’s not on Auguste Gusteau’s Frozen Dinners becoming common (or, for that matter, affordable.)

I think the problem here is conceptual.  (Shut up, Neddy.)  Says Yglesias, “I like to cook. Sometimes. I think it’s fun. And I’m certainly glad I know a few recipes. I hope to learn more. And everyone should know a few, ”  but there’s a difference between recipes and techniques, and its the latter that gets the cook through every day.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m hoping that Amazon doesn’t actually put this into action:

Method and apparatus for programmatically substituting synonyms into distributed text content. A synonym substitution mechanism may programmatically replace selected words in textual data with synonyms for the selected words. The modification to an excerpt performed by the synonym substitution mechanism may not significantly alter the meaning of the excerpt to a human reader. By replacing one or more selected words in an excerpt with synonyms for the words, illicit copies of the excerpt may be recognized by comparing a copy of the excerpt to the original. Particular permutations of synonym substitutions may be provided in excerpts to particular requestors. The particular permutations may be recorded and used to determine a requestor as the source of a copy of the excerpt. Synonym substitution may make programmatic excerpt chaining difficult by substituting different synonyms for the same word(s) in an overlapping portion of two adjacent excerpts.

The dangers are obvious, albeit entertaining:

“We have nothing to fear, but apprehension itself.”

“I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears, and elbow grease.”

“We few, we happy few, we unofficial association of brothers.”

“I am a jelly donut.”

So much for textual analysis or the linguistic turn.

[Hat-tip to John Scalzi]

Because she’s just basically popular in Maine:

Fascinating numbers for Olympia Snowe. Her approval rating with Democrats is 25 points higher than with Republicans- in fact her approval numbers with Democrats are better than they are for many of the Democratic Senators we’ve polled on across the country this year.

Like Ben Nelson on the Democratic side, she’s a GOP Senator in a state dominated by the other party. If the Republicans try to get rid of her via the primary, they’ll lose the seat, probably permanently.

(Hat-tip to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire)

Really, I’m enjoying this for all the wrong reasons:

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it has awarded the annual prize to the president “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The award cited in particular Mr. Obama’s effort to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal.

Heh, heh, heh.

I like Mary Beard’s TLS blog. But this time I fear she has Gone Too Far. Or, perhaps more likely, she’s pulling our collective leg — though I don’t remember her pulling it in quite this manner before. Even out here at the veriest Edge, the cityscape is clotted with victors’ memories of the War of Eastern Aggression. Just yesterday I was out picknicking with fellow parents of future yuppies at the Black Point Battery; and of course the map is full of streets named for Vicksburg, Grant, Lincoln and the Union. (Not to speak of the Confederate general from Big Sur.)

Need we quote Faulkner again?

Image by Flickr user maduarte used under a Creative Commons license.


As relief from the grim tone of the page, with no pictures or conversations, here are some links to work by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984). A true Greenwich Village bohemian, she lived a life that (had I the time) would warrant an extensive post. Apparently her work was disparaged during the brief (and macho) hegemony of abstraction; and certainly she suffered for it, living at times on welfare. In 1934, her companion Kenneth Doolittle destroyed hundreds of her paintings “in a rage”. And yet she made an extraordinary body of work, from the 1920s into the 1980s. Her specialty was the portrait, but there are striking cityscapes and still lifes as well. Looking at the pictures, I’m perpetually surprised at how much variety she achieved with seemingly simple means — and in particular, what variety of expression and personality she could convey in the faces of her sitters.

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."